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Battle of Austerlitz (1805) – Napoleon’s Greatest Victory

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The Battle of Austerlitz, December 2, 1805, was the decisive victory of the Napoleonic Army against the armies of the Third Anti-Napoleonic Coalition. It went down in history as the “Battle of Three Emperors”, as the armies of the emperors of Austrian Franz II and Russian Alexander I, fought against the army of Emperor Napoleon I. The battle ended with the defeat of the Allied armies.

Forces and plans

The Allied army numbered 85 thousand soldiers (60 thousand Russian army, 25 thousand Austrian army with 278 guns) under the general command of General Kutuzov. The army of Napoleon numbered 73.5 thousand soldiers.

On the night of December 2, 1805, the Allied forces were prepared for battle in this order: The first three Russian columns were on the left wing under the command of the general from the infantry; The 4th Russian-Austrian column was in the center, directly subordinated to Kutuzov; The 5th column, under the Austrian prince Johann Liechtenstein, was on the right wing. The Guards’ reserve was located behind the 4th column and was commanded by the Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich. The Austrian and Russian Emperors were at the 4th column. The battle plan, proposed by the Austrian general, consisted of a maneuver by the left-wing to bypass the French army. The left-wing contained up to half of the allied army troops. Kutuzov, who disagreed with the plan, did not offer his own plan for the offensive, being well aware of the strength of the French army. At the same time, Kutuzov did not submit to the Emperor his resignation, thus he shared the responsibility for the defeat with the rest of the command.

Course of battle

Napoleon was aware that the actual command of the allied army did not belong to Kutuzov, but to Alexander, who was inclined to accept the plans of the Austrian generals. The Allied army, which began the offensive, fell into the trap set by Napoleon. He guessed that the Austrian command would seek to cut him off from the road to Vienna and from the Danube, to encircle and drive him northward into the mountains; and according to this plan, they would undertake a wide attack by the left wing against the right flank of the French army. In this case, the front of the allied army would inevitably be stretched.

Napoleon concentrated his troops in the center, creating to the Austrian command the visible possibility of rapid encirclement of his army, while simultaneously making his troops ready for a swift strike at the center of the Allies.

The advance of the French troops began in the morning when the left wing of the Allies was sufficiently far from the center. The weakened center of the Russian army had no other choice but to retreat from the onslaught of the main forces of the French army. Napoleon sent a blow to the main forces on the left wing of the Allies, which were surrounded from the front and rear. Only then the commander of the left wing of the allies, after seeing the general situation of the battle, began to retreat. Part of the troops were thrown back to the ponds and were forced to retreat on the frozen ice. The right wing of the allied army resisted; but eventually was also forced to retreat after Napoleon sent cavalry against them.

Emperors Alexander and Franz fled the battlefield long before the end of the battle. The wounded Kutuzov barely escaped captivity. The Russian army for the first time since the time of Peter the Great lost the general battle. The victorious frenzy of the Russian Emperor gave way to complete despair.

The Meaning of Austerlitz

Allied forces lost up to 27,000 troops; most of them, 21 thousand, Russian. The losses of the French, according to various sources, amounted to 9-12,000 troops. After the battle, Austrian Emperor Franz told Alexander that it was pointless to continue the struggle. The result of the battle was the Austrian withdrawal from the war, and the disintegration of the Third Anti-French Coalition of European Powers. Russia continued the war with France as part of the Fourth Coalition.

The defeat of Austerlitz made a great impression on the Russian public, who considered the Russian army to be invincible from the time of the Narva battle, but this did not cause a decline of the spirit of the Russian army and people.

The battle of Austerlitz in popular historical literature is often seen as an example of a battle that led to the complete defeat of the enemy. In fact, this battle, certainly one of the most outstanding waged by Napoleon, is an example of the opposite. After the defeat suffered by the Allied army at all points, the bulk of Russian troops managed to retreat in an organized manner, taking more than half of the artillery with them, and made a new base for the troops. The French, having won, were not in a very favorable position for pursuit of the retreating but numerous and fierce enemy.

The Allies suffered the most severe defeat on their left wing; but, after crossing a deep marsh, the greatest depth of which reached to the chest, more often knee-deep or waist-deep, the attack from the French troops ended, because the latter did not move to pursue the allies on the opposite shore. Thus, in the battle of Austerlitz, in contrast to the Battle of Cannes, and also at Waterloo, the complete destruction of the enemy troops was not achieved. However, the Austerlitz battle is still an outstanding example of a military victory. It is a great achievement, characterized by a complete victory with only a simple maneuver carried out at an unmistakably chosen moment in time; though helped by the incompetence of the allied army’s command. Napoleon reached his highest level of power after this battle, and he was ready to make plans for the invasion of the Russian Empire.

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